In a Tri-River Athletic Conference baseball showdown seemingly destined for extra innings Tuesday night at Buchanan High, Tyler Bottorff was given an alert by Bears coach Tom Donald in the fourth: “Get locked into this pitcher because you will have a very important at bat here down the line.”
The pitcher was Clovis senior left-hander Preston Mott, one of the Central Section’s best and a 2014 Bee All-Star for a 33-5 team that finished top-ranked in the state and fourth nationally.
Further, Mott put Bottorff into a 1-2 hole with two outs, but the pinch hitter then sizzled an outside fastball the opposite way and down the right-field line, driving in two runs, breaking a 3-3 tie and giving the section’s top-ranked Buchanan a 5-3 victory over the No. 3 Cougars and no worse than a TRAC title tie.
Bottorff, whose family moved from Madera and into the Buchanan district before his eighth grade year, couldn’t remember a bigger hit in a 13-year career launched in T-ball: “Not anything in my mind right now.”
He hit for Grant Gambrell, who would still have his say by earning another impressive save for the 24-3 Bears, who are also ranked No. 2 in the state by Cal-Hi Sports.
Gambrell, who delivered a strikeout and groundout after replacing Conner Loeprich (6-0) with one on and one out in the seventh, had struck out the side with the bases loaded in a 4-0 win over Clovis West Friday.
A 6-foot-4, 220-pound junior right-hander who committed to Oregon State as a sophomore, he smoked the radar guns at 93 mph Tuesday night.
“It’s a luxury,” Buchanan coach Tom Donald said, “to have a guy like Grant to come in and slam the door.”
A luxury is a three-game lead with three games remaining. And that’s what the Bears (11-1) have over Clovis and Clovis West in the TRAC.
It’s the seventh TRAC title for Donald, who’s 403-119-4 (.770) with four section titles in 17 years at Buchanan. He’s one of 14 baseball coaches in section history to win 400 or more games, according to section historian Bob Barnett.
But Donald said he won’t be satisfied until the Bears win the league crown outright: “It’s not over yet. Ties don’t count.”
Buchanan will send senior right-hander D.J. Martinez (9-0, 0.99 earned-run average) at Clovis on Friday night before closing the regular season with two games against Clovis West next week.
The Bears, down 2-0, received consecutive home runs from Chandler Bengston and Ross Dodds off Mott in the fourth for a 3-2 lead.
And those blasts proved to have further impact two innings later, when Mott — clearly pitching the Nos. 3 and 4 hitters carefully — walked them with two outs in the sixth, setting the stage for Bottorf’s double.
“There was no panic in the dugout and the kids kept battling,” Donald said. “Conner (Loeprich) didn’t have his best stuff but kept working and challenging hitters. It was just a great team win.”